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The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our host, WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami.

Hospital association CEO says Canada imports will match the quality of US drugs

Pharmacist filling prescription in pharmacy drugstore
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The Food and Drug Administration has authorized Florida to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

Florida Hospital Association president Mary Mayhew tells "The Florida Roundup" that she hopes people can start benefitting from the program within the year.

In a first for the country, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized Florida to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the program into law in 2019. The FDA authorized the plan for two years from the date it's notified of the first shipment of imported drugs — meaning, it doesn’t kick in immediately.

A news release from DeSantis claimed the plan could save up to $180 million in the first year.

Florida Hospital Association president Mary Mayhew
Florida Hospital Association
Florida Hospital Association president Mary Mayhew

Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, which advocates for more than 200 hospitals and health systems in the state, spoke about the program Friday with Tom Hudson on The Florida Roundup.

She said few Floridians will get the cheaper drugs at first.

“It is currently limited to benefit individuals for certain diagnoses who are receiving their supports through the Florida Department of Children & Families, through the Department of Health, through the Department of Corrections,” Mayhew said.

People eligible under the care of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities can access the drugs as well.

RELATED: Florida is finally cleared to import prescription drugs from Canada

“The state is also interested in expanding that to those individuals enrolled in Medicaid.”

Mayhew said she hopes people can start benefitting from the program within the year.

Florida will begin by providing prescription drugs in a small number of drug classes, including medications for people with chronic conditions like HIV/AIDS, mental illness, prostate cancer and urea cycle disorder.

Before the state imports drugs, however, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration must send drug information to the FDA for approval, test the drugs, and relabel them to comply with FDA standards.

Mayhew said there won’t be a difference in quality between the imported drugs and those sold in the U.S.

She also described the role hospitals would play once the program takes effect.

“Our hospitals are certainly ready to partner with the state, with these state agencies that will be specifically involved in this initiative, and certainly as that extends to the Medicaid population, we will be ready to support in any way we can,” Mayhew said.

RELATED: Canada, concerned about its drug supply, issues a warning after approval of Florida's importation plan

While the program is a first for Florida and the country, a federal law passed in 2003 allows for pharmacists and wholesalers to import drugs from Canada. Mayhew said Florida is contracting with a wholesaler and other provisions for the importation.

“This is, as we can imagine, a baby step forward to take advantage of that provision, again, that's been around since 2003, to recognize prescription drug prices have increased significantly last year, on average, over a 15% increase for those drugs that saw price increases. So we've got to look disruptively at opportunities to make prescription medications more affordable,” Mayhew explained.

She added that other states may follow Florida’s lead or start to get approval for their importation requests.

The Canadian government, however, claims bulk importation won’t solve the issue of high drug prices in the U.S. In a statement, it said it would take action to safeguard Canada’s drug supply; for instance, the Canadian government could prevent drugs from being sold outside of the country if it causes or worsens a drug shortage.

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